By Kim Hyung-dae, business editor
Korean Ambassador Toh Kyung-hwan in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia said, “Our economic influence in Malaysia is expanding over time as we are Malaysia’s 8th largest trade partner and Malaysia is the top 10th recipient of investments from Korea.”
Malaysia, located in the heart of South East Asia along the Straits of Malacca, is a country where the civilization of the East and the West meets.
Despite the tropical climate with temperatures ranging from 25 to 32℃, the weather is rather pleasant in the evening. Just as the “Malaysia Truly Asia” slogan claims, says Ambassador Toh, one would certainly have a truly Asian experience in Malaysia as the multiethnic country mainly consisting of Malays, Chineses and Indians is a melting pot of various Asian cultures and traditions.”
Malaysia is a popular destination among Koreans, in particular, Kota Kinabalu also Known as the ‘Southeast Asia’s Hidden Gem,’ Malaysia is also a country where there is the iconic Twin Towers which Korean company took part in the construction.
About 620,000 Koreans visited Malaysia in 2018. It is expected that people-to-people and resource exchanges will increase significantly with the launching of various direct flights which includes Incheon-Johor Baru and Jeju-Kuala Lumpur routes.
Korea and Malaysia have been fostering cooperative partnership in various fields since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1960. South Korea’s economic influence is expanding over time as Korea is Malaysia’s 8th largest trade partner and Malaysia is the top 10th recipients of investments from Korea.
In 1983, Malaysia implemented the Look East Policy which sets Korea’s phenomenal economic transformation as a role model.
The Korean Embassy in Malaysia has various interesting events to promote the understanding and friendship between Korea and Malaysia.
Off hand, the Embassy has “2019 Hansik Korean Food Contest” at UCSI University on Sept. 28, 2019.
The 2019 Hansik (Korean Food) Contest is a Korean cooking competition organized by the Korean Embassy in Malaysia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Korea, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Korean Food Promotion Institute.
This event is aimed at raising the awareness of Korean food, traditions, history and culture among the Malaysians and also to encourage contestants to think out of the box by trying to blend the Korean food into Malaysians’ tastes.
Since 1980, the Republic of Korea (south) emerged as one of Malaysia's main foreign direct investment sources. Until 1996, a total of 235 South Korean investments projects to Malaysia worth RM4.6 billion were approved for the manufacturing sector, comprising the production of non-metallic products, electrical and electronic products, wood and wood products, rubber products and chemicals.
From 2004 until 2008, Malaysia's trade with South Korea increased by 6.7% from US$9.7 billion in 2004 to US$15.4 billion. In 2012, another 287 projects have been implemented with an investment of RM7.7 billion. The trade value reached US$10.8 billion in 2015, making Malaysia as the South Korea's 12th largest business partner.
In 2018, South Korean SK Group signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Malaysia to invest in the latter by collaborating in information and communications technology (ICT) and 5G, oil and gas, green technology and urban development.
The number of Korean expatriates in Malaysia nearly tripled between 2005 and 2007, reaching 14,934 individuals, and is expected to continue to grow rapidly. Furthermore, around 200,000 South Korean tourists came to Malaysia in 2006; Kota Kinabalu was their most popular destination.
Malaysians in Korea form a much smaller community. A report estimated in 2005 that there were 400 Malaysian international students in the country. Their presence in Korea is an outgrowth of Mahathir Mohamad's "Look East" policy, which encouraged Malaysians to learn from and emulate the attitudes and work ethic of South Korea and Japan. In 2008, the South Korean government gave out scholarships totaling RM8 million to forty-one Malaysian students to support their pursuit of master's degrees, doctoral degrees, or other post-graduate research in South Korea.
According to the Office of the Prime Minister of Malaysia on March 13, 2019, as reported by Bernama, the Malaysian National News Agency, Korea and Malaysia have agreed to bring the “Look East Policy and New Southern Policy” in a harmonious way (expression of President Moon Jae-in).
Moon said that Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had been laying the foundation for bilateral cooperation through the Look East Policy, which was launched under Dr. Mahathir’s leadership in the 1980s.”
At a joint press conference with Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir at Perdana Putra of Malaysia, Moon said, “My government is also actively implementing the New Southern Policy (which was launched in 2017) known to further elevate and develop our relationship to ASEAN countries including Malaysia.”
The New Southern Policy aims to elevate the relations between Korea and ASEAN including Malaysia in the three pillars of People, Prosperity and Peace, and as well as to a heightened level equivalent to the relations with the four powers.
As a family member of ASEAN, President Moon said Malaysia had achieved a remarkable economic developments and also playing a leading role in fostering peace and prosperity in the South East Asian region.
Moon added: “I believe all this is possible, thanks to the vision of an outstanding leader (Dr Mahathir) and presence of hard-working people. I, once again convey my fine regards to Prime Minister Mahathir for steering Malaysia towards national development while preserving the value of Asia for a long period. I was delighted to be the first Korean President to visit Malaysia after nine years.”
The last state visit by a president of South Korea to Malaysia was by President Lee Myung-bak, on Dec 9 and 10, 2010, for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and South Korea.
During the bilateral talks, President Moon, through South Korea’s government official translator, said both countries had also agreed to strengthen strategic cooperation of people centric peace and prosperity.
He said South Korea and Malaysia had agreed to further invigorate the people-to-people exchanges between the two countries, and ‘we take note of the steady increase whereby the number of visits between our two nations was 1 million per year.
President Moon said both countries also further agreed to cultivate friendship of people by hosting cultural events to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the Republic of Korea in 2020.
“We also discussed and agreed to establish institutional framework to expand bilateral trade and investment by working towards bilateral agreements.
“We want a swift proceeding with relevant procedures starting from a joint feasibility study. I hope we will be able to declare the conclusion of negotiations on the occasion of the ASEAN-Korea Commemorative Summit,” he said.
President Moon and Dr Mahathir also agreed to actively explore cooperation in advanced industries including information and technology (IT), smart manufacturing, future cars, health and medical fields in order to seek a joint response to the era of the fourth Industrial Revolution.
“We share our great appreciation for the smart city pilot project that will be launched in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. We also agreed to extend our cooperation regarding intelligence transport system, and roads to global halal market. And for this (halal market) purpose, we have agreed to expand cross certification between respective agencies,” he said.
President Moon and Dr Mahathir had also agreed to bolster cooperation in defense industry, public safety and cyber security.
“As Malaysia prepares to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) next year, South Korea will provide active support to ensure its success. End of this year, South Korea will be hosting the Korea-ASEAN Commemorative Summit to mark the 30th anniversary as dialogue relations partner.
“We propose a new vision to create the next 100 years and establish strategic road map for regional peace, and cooperation as well as prosperity through this summit,” he said.
In addition, President Moon hoped that today’s bilateral meeting would mark an important mile stone in South Korea and Malaysia’s efforts to develop a friendly and cooperative ties in a more successful manner.
“I would like to express my gratitude for the warm hospitality from the Malaysian government and hope to return the favor when Prime Minister Dr Mahathir visits South Korea at the end of this year,” he said.
Moon visited Malaysia on March 13, 2019 receiving a warm welcome by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah.
The two leaders discussed various bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest.
After the talks, Dr Mahathir and President Moon signed four memorandums of understanding (MOUs) involving industrial cooperation relating to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0), cooperation in the field of transportation, the development of a Smart City in Malaysia, and cooperation in the halal industry.
According to Minister-Counsellor Muhammad Syukur Ismail at the Malaysian Embassy in Seoul, there are many Korean companies in Malaysia contributing to the promotion of cooperation and friendship between the two countries.
Among them are Ungjin Coway, Daelim Group, Cuckcoo, Iljin Materials (Iljin Group), POSCO Construction, LS Industrial Systemsm Daewoo Construction, Taihan Electric Wire, Korean Air, Samsung Group, Hyundai Group, Taeyong Engineering & Construction, Hyosung Group, GS Construction, SK Telecom, LG Electronics and etc.